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Nancy Reagan -- Passing of a Fashion and Lifestyle Icon

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 7/03/2016 Elisabeth Laurence

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As a wife, mother, First Lady and woman of style, Nancy Reagan was unappreciated in her own time, but she set the stage for women to simultaneously look elegant and fashionable and be a strong partner in life -- and love.
Much was written subsequent to her initial fashion foray into the White House -- wearing a stunning, beaded, one-shouldered, lace-over-silk-satin James Galanos gown at her husband's Inaugural Ball -- as if fashion were frippery, instead of her actions being seen as both promoting and being grounded in a celebration of American style.
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In a New York Times article from 1982, a source is quoted saying, "She felt she was helping the American design industry and the American clothing industry by publicizing American fashions. But it was beginning to take a bad slant, as if she didn't have any wardrobe of her own, which is ridiculous. It got to her.''
Nancy Reagan led the way, in a straightforward progression through other First Ladies, directly to Michelle Obama -- whose every dress and gown by an American designer is lauded unanimously by the press -- see Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, to be a role model for grace and good taste.
From "Reagan Red," Mrs. Reagan's favourite colour, to the tied-at-the-neck blouses and dresses, lace gowns, embellishments, belted shirtwaists and tailored suits, she was always chic and appropriate.
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Slim -- size 2, with perfect posture, Nancy Reagan was an American style-setter, and her commitment to American designers was nonpareil.
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For example, Philadelphia-born James Galanos, who designed both of Mrs. Reagan's Inaugural Gowns -- the aforementioned one-shouldered sheath to the more modest, two-piece, long-skirted suit for her husband's second Inaugural Ball -- gained fame as the First Lady's go-to-designer and built a career on it.
Once on international radar, Galanos even garnered acclaim from French couturier Hubert de Givenchy -- who once observed of a Galanos gown, "We don't make them this well in Paris," after inspecting the workmanship on the inside of a garment.
Nancy Reagan had a strong fashion aesthetic -- and she also turned to other American designers -- from Oscar de la Renta to Carolina Herrera, to Bill Blass and Adolfo, to create fashions for her that were in keeping with her personal style.
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"She knew exactly what she was doing," James Galanos told W Magazine in 2007.
While Americans revered Jackie Kennedy's soignée sophistication -- even though Mrs. Kennedy sometimes strayed from favorite American designer Oleg Cassini to don Chanel and Givenchy -- it was after the Carter "jeans era" that Nancy Reagan's wearing American designers in the White House was roundly criticized -- even after Mrs. Reagan donated many dresses to Parsons to disseminate to museums throughout the country.
Her spokesperson Elaine Crispin said,' 'For many years, Mrs. Reagan has given clothing to museums because she believes that the clothing of any particular era is a visual story of the people of that period. She also hopes that in some way her efforts will give recognition to one of our country's largest industries." ( states that the size of the U.S. apparel market is $225 billion.)
In 2007, the year of the opening of an archival collection of Mrs. Reagan's dresses at the Reagan Library, Carolina Herrera defended Nancy Reagan saying, "It's important that a first lady be fashionable and glamorous, because she represents the country and its style."
The American fashion industry -- through the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) celebrated Mrs. Reagan and her support for American designers in 1988 by awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award.
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It was, in my opinion, about time -- then, and now, to honor a First Lady who was both supporter and partner behind-the-scenes in her husband's Presidency, who raised awareness of important issues in this country, and who led the way in highlighting American apparel industry and hardworking American designers -- and she did it all with style.

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